Many Italian families have a Sunday Gravy tradition. The media persists on waving this tomato-spattered napkin as a beacon of Italian identity to the extent that “gravy” has become a bit of a catch phrase. Don Baratta, gentle author of The Sicilian Gentleman’s Cookbook, weighs in on the matter thusly: “The sauce is of tomato and not to be confused with lesser sauces. Some Italians mistakenly refer to it as ‘the gravy’ and, though the appellation unmasks their lack of sophistication, they mean no harm. Ignorance in itself is not to be despised.” Similarly, I had no idea that tomato sauce was ever called “gravy” until HBO aired The Sopranos. My mom never called it that and she certainly didn’t make it every Sunday. Sunday meant Bob Evan’s after starving through mass in our Midwestern home. However, she did confirm that her father, also a Sicilian gentleman, referred to it as such.

The sauce we ate for dinner was more often than not canned. This is not to point to any domestic failures on my mother’s part, but to illustrate that authentic cooking is more a matter of intention because we loved it. When she did make sauce from scratch, it was either her father’s recipe or her own variation. We liked that too. I don’t know the recipe because my own forays into gravy making, at least in the epic batch after Sunday mass sense, have been watery failures. Perhaps this is because I lack patience or because I didn’t formally reject the ways of Satan in front of a congregation of strangers. So it was that I resorted to Barilla – an excellent sauce with great jars for storing spices and mojitos – or quick sautees such as those chronicled in the previous post.

Please fast-forward through many years of Barilla spaghetti sauce. Our narrative is now located in Chicago, IL where a fresh couple sits in the kitchen. They’ve walked down the road to spend a little of the newly incoming income on ingredients for a red sauce that he claims will feed an army. He’s excited because it’s a recipe he’s worked on for some time. She’s mildly skeptical because it involves canned tomatoes. Her mother calls from Columbus, OH during this time and jokingly asks “Oh! He makes good gravy?” As it turns out, he does even if his roots are located outside the Holy Roman Empire.

Gravy

Two 28 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
One can of tomato paste
Four bell peppers, seeded and chopped – at least one of each color (red, orange, green)
Two zucchini, halved and sliced
Two yellow squash, halved and chopped
Two portobello mushrooms, chopped
Lots of garlic, chopped
One yellow onion, peeled and chopped
One package of hot Italian sausage
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Basil
Oregano
Parsley
Rosemary
Cayenne pepper
Red wine of your choice

This recipe is best executed with two people. One will do the chopping while the other mans the stove. It’s important that you work well together and/or have the space to do it. Otherwise, you’ll bump elbows and resent each other for not working fast/slow enough. Then no one will want to eat the sauce as it’s become bitter with negativity and you’ll just end up falling into separate beds hungry, drunk and angry. Dinner shouldn’t end in tears. (Note: This has never happened with us, but I see how it could dissolve into chaos with others.)

1) Get each of ye a glass of wine. Go to your stations that should each have a cutting surface and knife. Veg Tramp should chop the onion first since Stove Harlot will need half of it to cook with the sausages.

2) While Veg Tramp does the rest of the chopping, Stove Harlot should sautee the sausages and onions in a bit of olive oil. While waiting for the sausages to brown a bit, Stove Harlot will also dump the canned tomatoes and tomato paste into a large cauldron set on high heat.

3) Once the tomatoes are bubbling away, Veg Tramp should be done chopping everything except the herbs and the sausage. If not, Stove Harlot can turn down the heat a bit. Once done, Veg Tramp should transport all veggies to the cauldron whereupon Stove Harlot will stir, add a bit of salt, stir and turn down the heat to medium.

4) Once the sausages are brown on the outside, Stove Harlot should slice them into rounds. Render them unto the cauldron and thank the heathen gods of Chicago for selling decent Italian sausage in at least one place, if not just Peapod. Please don’t cook them all the way through as they will finish in the sauce.

5) Add oregano, basil, parsley and rosemary. If dried, about a tablespoon of each. If fresh, a small mound the circumference of your finger and thumb in “okay” mudra. Veg Tramp should do the chopping of herbs. Stir – taste – adjust.

6) Salt and pepper should be added after the herb profile is set, just because. Stir – taste – adjust. Add ground cayenne pepper. Stir – taste – adjust. Note: Less is more when seasoning. Start out with a pinch, then increase as needed.

7) Set the sauce to simmer for at least 1/2 hour and up to 2 depending on how hungry you are, how much time you have in the day, how hot it is in the kitchen already. Check up on it every now and again to make sure the bottom isn’t scalding. Be careful not to drink the rest of the red wine while waiting, lest you forget about it.

(8) When nearly done, add a glug of red wine to the mix. Stir. Turn off heat. Serve over pasta or make a lasagna out of it.

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